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Victor's and Barbara's Travel Diaries

Our visit to France in 2011

In June 2011 we started our holiday with a canal boat trip with Robert, from Belgium into France.   From Charleville-Mezieres in France, we then hired a car and toured south of the Loire. For our last 2 weeks we stayed in a pretty cottage in Brittany. 

Our first place in France, after crossing the Belgian border at our last Belgian lock, was the village of Givet. We arrived here on Friday 17th June. The village on the right bank was very depressed, grey and dull, but the showers at the Capitainerie were the best so far!
Barbara and I went shopping on tle left bank. This was somewhat nicer then the right bank, but nothing to write home about! Soon after leaving Givet we went through a lock followed immediately by a 500 metre tunnel. and one more manual lock. This was followed by 4 automatic locks, and we learned how to operate these.We stopped at Wallerand, and looked around a bit, but an enormous gale was blowing.  We then moved on, it started to pour down, and we had a terrible time getting through a lock in the downpour, soaked to the skin.  Later the sun came out (first time today!), and we moored for the night of Saturday 18th June at Fumay.  This is an attractive village set on a hill, with a tall sandstone church dominating it.
Accident. Boat grounded in shallow water on rocks. Bikes lost overboard. Propeller damaged. Slight taking on of water into the hold.  No proper mooring at Montherme or the place after, so we had to tie to a wall, with no access to shore. This was Sunday 19th June.
After 3 more locks we reached the "Port de Pleasance" at Charleville.  Barbara and Victor found a nice restaurant in the main square, for lunch. We stayed at Charleville-Mezieres on Monday and Tuesday.
On Tuesday Rob went with Annalise to the train station. She was heading for London on EuroStar, then flying to Kenya for her work.  Barbara and I spent all morning doing washing and clothes drying at the camping/capitainerie. We discussed with Rob about leaving the boat at the repair yard, tomorrow, 4 locks further on from here.
Raining yet again!  We left Misty and Robert at the Charleville harbour, had bread for breakfast on a park bench, then found a hotel which kindly let us occupy the room very early in the day. Here we dried out our soaking clothes.
We picked up a Hertz car around 11 am on Thursday 23rd June, and drove into lush green countryside.  We stopped at a picnic table in a tiny village called Guincourt, and had a picnic lunch, and explored the village and its church cemetery. Later w stopped at Attigny, had coffee, and explored the ancient arches dating back to 600 AD. We then reached Reims, and stayed in a "Premiere Classe" hotel on the outskirts of the city. We enjoyed Victor's 67th birthday dinner at the "Hippopotamus" restaurant.
We took a bus into town,  walked around a bit, had a picnic lunch in a lovely little park  The sun was shining, our first nice day since landing in Europe!  We visited the Roman Forum or "Cryptoportic" dating from 1st century AD, and a very interesting tour onto the 40 metre high roof of Reims Cathedral. This church is 800 years old this year, the foundation stone having been laid in 1211. We stayed a second night at the "Premiere Classe" hotel, which is more like a sort of plastic cubicle than a first class hotel!
After a late start and shopping at a hypermarket, we drove to Epernay, the home of Moet and Chandon and Dom Perrier champagnes. We explored the town, then drove south to Sezanne. This is a very pretty and interesting village, with medieval houses attached to the ancient church on all sides in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. We then continued to Nogent-sur-Seine, where we decided to stay overnight Sat 25th June, in a hotel in the village centre.  This is a pretty village, with a lovely towpath along the river Seine, and heaps of history.
Our first stop was at Sens..  We had lunch on a bench beside thr River Yonne at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, watching a small yacht race.  Later in the afternoon, attempting to criss-cross along tiny country roads, our route was blocked by a fire after a tractor accident, so we had to back-track a long way.  We stopped at an enchanting small town called St Fargeau (pop 1900), and from the Office du Tourisme we located a chambre d'hote in the "ferme du chateau". We liked it so much we asked to stay 3 nights, from Sat 26th June to Tues 28th.!  It is an ancient farm, which shows tourists and groups of school children what life was like in the old days on a working farm.  We had donkeys, horses and cows outside our window.  The donkey was a real rascal, he tried to step onto the window ledge and come in to our room! Once he actually managed to grab hold of our bedsheet and started to drag it out of the window, but we stopped him just in time!
In the morning we explored the town, with its ancient town gate topped by a tower, its medieval houses, and an enormous chateau dominating the town square.  In the afternoon we visited the chateau. 

This was started in the early 13th century as a pentagonal sandstone castle. In 1453 Joan of Arc's companion and soldier, Antoine de Cabannes,  bought the castle, and made it into a fortress with six massive towers and an enormously thick coating of red bricks all around. In the mid 1600's it was owned by King Louis 14th's cousin, "La Grande Mademoiselle". Michael Peletier, a Minister of Finance, bought the castle in 1715. His son was cauaght up in the French revolution, voted for the death of KIng Louis 16th by guillotine, and was promptly murdered by one of the King's old guards. Consequently he was proclaimed the first martyr of the revolution, and his family managed to keep the castle, right up to 1968.

In the morning we we drove a short distance south to "Le Lac de Bourdon" and walked along its shoreline, then drove around it. It feeds water to the local canal system, and the water level seemed fairly low to us.  Then we visited a very small castle, "Le Chateau de Ratilly" at Treigny. This is a very ancient crumbling place, inhabited for the last 50 years by a family of potters, represented today by the daughter.


 In the afternoon we visted Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses, where a series of 7 ancient locks were built in 1620!  They are not in use today, they were replaced by a "modern" series of six locks in 1887, 124 years ago! Then we stopped at Bleneau to walk around a pleasant water park "Les Jardins D'Eau de Bleneau".

Our first stop on Wednesday was at a bridge over the upper reaches of the river Loire, at Bonny-sur-Loire. We were shocked by the low water level. At Neuvy-sur Barengeon, we lost much time and money after filling petrol into what turned out to be a diesel fuel car!  After that we used a freeway for the first time, to make a bit of distance. We reached Argenton-sur-Creuse, and stayed Wed 29th June in an old hotel right in the town centre. It proved not to be a good choice, as the traffic noise under our window was awful, and drinkers/smokers at the hotel's bar-cafe were sitting right below our window talking very noisily! We didn't get much sleep.
We took a walk around Argenton and up a hill to a chapel with a huge gold-leaf clad statue of Notre Dame on top of its steeple.  We then wento into the Parc de la Brenne, at Sauzelles, near Le Blanc, and took a delightful walk in the forest, beside a stream and through cow pastures.  The clean country air was such a relief after the traffic and cigarette fumes at Argenton! We stopped in the town centre of Lussac-Les-Chateaux, and obtained some adresses of chambres d'hote, and we found one at Bouresse, at which we stayed 2 nights, 30th June and 1st July.. It is owned by an English family, who were very welcoming. Victor enjoyed bacon and egg for breakfast 2 nights running!  In the evening we explored along the river Vienne, and saw an intriguing chateau at Persac. This is uninhabited, but the gardens are open, so we were able to walk around and take photos.
We visited Montmorillon, a medieval town on the river Gartempe. They call it Cite de l'Ecrit, and it is full of bookshops and art shops, all in ancient medieval streets, cascading down the hillside to the river.  Then we moved on to saint Savin, with its enormous ancient abbey along the bank of Gartempe river. We enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch at the Hotel de France there.

Then we went a bit further North to the pretty village of Angles-sur l'Anglin. This has impressive fort ruins along a high ridge, dominating the river valley below. The bridge is pretty and there is a mill with a water wheel.


Our last stop for the day was at Chauvigney, where there is a real castle, with a picture-book keep and "sleeping-Beauty" style turrets on top. We returned to our Chambre d'Hote at Boresse, tired out but happy after a packed and interesting day.

We drove west over slow but interesting country roads, and reached the Atlantic coast at Fouras-Les-Bains, south of La Rochelle. We found a charming Chambre d'Hote in an old but grand house dating back to 1891. It reminded me of the stately house of the Aristocats in Walt Disney's cartoon. The ceilings are at least 14 feet high, ther are chandeliers in many rooms, our bedroom is huge, with an adjoining bathroom with bath, separate shower and handbasin, but no WC. We have to go across a corridor for that privilege, and the plumbing in there possibly dates back to 1890 as well!  Our hosts were a charming couple, the monsieur,  Jean-Francois, was quite talkative, he wanted to impress us with his English, having worked for a UK company some years ago!  He inherited the house from his parents and grandfather, who had to suffer German military officer occupation during the war.
This morning we walked all over the seashores of this peninsula, Fouras is a traditional French seaside town, with no "foreign" tourists except us!  We saw the beaches at low tide, the promenade cafes, and the town centre with its Sunday food market.  We then enjoyed a nice 3 course meal in the town centre. The traffic was extremely congested in the afternoon, so we drove out of Fouras to Rochefort. This seemed to us a decaying city, though steeped in French naval history, and with an obviously thriving and gigantic yacht harbour.
At the suggestion of our host, Jean-Francois, we took a ferry boat to Ile D'Aix, a tiny island with no motor cars and lots of walking and cycling tracks. We walked around the entire island, then ate a lazy lunch with a bottle of cool rose wine,at a cafe in the little town centre. Jean-Francois kindly drove us to the boat terminal, and picked us up at 5:30 on our return.
We left Fouras and headed North, avoiding the coast because of the French July holiday crowds. We drove via Niort,  Parthenay, Bressuire, Chemille, and reached the river Loire, and the province of Anjou, at Challons. We found a chambre d'hote right beside the Loire,  and agreed to stay 4 nights, from Tuesday 5th July to Friday 8th July. Once again, the water level of the river was at an all-time low. But only 5 years ago, it had seriously flooded, into our hostess's garden and up to her door..
On Wed 6th, we visited the chateau of Serrant, at St Georges-sur Loire. This is a very impressive castle, with a full  moat all the way round it.  We took a guided tour inside the castle, however the French-speaking guide refused to slow down his spiel, so we understood very little. 

 In the afternoon we went to a small chateau with delightful gardens, the "Chateau des pins", near Champtoce-sur Loire.  Here the ch√Ęteau itself is not open to the public, but the gardens and parklands are. We took a very long walk in the parklands, through thick forests.

On Thursday 7th we drove to Brissac-Quince and visited its chateau. This is the tallest in France, 7 stories high. The two medieval towers were constructed in about 1510, then the rest of the chateau was built in renaissance style about 100 years later, partly destroying the insides of the two towers.  The dukes of Brissac have lived there continuously since 1510.  We saw the medieval kitchens under the castle, the magnificent stables, a classical Greek mausoleum, a vineyard in continuous wine production for 500 years, and we took a long walk around a lake and through woods. There was also an amazing tunnel with water flowing through it, which was built several hundred years ago by a Duke of Brissac, to divert the river water from flooding part of the town and the grounds of the castle.

 Later that afternoon we walked around the town of Brissac, then visited another  pretty village by the Loire, at Denee.

On Friday 8th we drove west along the Loire to St Florent. This is an attractive village, with a 16th century abbey perched high on a cliff overlooking the Loire. The views were impressive, but we imagined they would be truly beautiful when the river is full of water!
We drove north as quickly as possible to our gite in Brittany at St Caradec. We arrived there at 2:30, on Staurday 9th July, and were delighted with the airy and spacious accommodation, comfortable and modern inside, set into old farm buildings. This will be our home for the next 2 weeks. We plan to use it as a base for touring Brittany.
Firstly, we used two washing machines to catch up on over 2 weeks of travelling without any laundry.  Then we drove a short distance west past Lake Guerledan to the abbey of Bon Repos. Here there was a Sunday market in full swing. We bought a kilo of spinach from a local grower proud of all his herbs and vegies, grown without chemicals, all manual weeding! The abbey is an impressive ruin from the 12th century.  Then we walked beside a part of the lake, and passed some very pretty villages, which we plan to visit in more depth later.
On Monday 11th July, we started in fairly thick mist, and drove to St Malo.  The weather cleared to brilliant warm sunshine, to reveal a magnificent walled medieval city right by the sea. We walked on top of the city ramparts all around the town, with fabulous views at every turn. We then walked around inside the walls, and had a crepe lunch at a creperie. 






Later we drove to St Lunaire, a seaside town west of St Malo, with magnificent old mansion houses perched on the cliff top overlooking the sea. Then we drove to Cap Frehel and Fort La Motte. The latter is a magical castle perched on rocks overhanging the savage sea.

After a lazy start, in cool cloudy weather, we explored the village of St Caradec It has an unusual church, a pretty centre, and a lovely lake surounded by green parkland. We had lunch at the only open village restaurant. This was an education in itself!  Popular with locals, and very reasonably priced, entree in a help yourself buffet style, a choice of veal or fish for the main, a cheese plate, a large choice of deserts, wine and coffee all included for 10.5 euros. Then we went for a long country walk in woods and along a cycleway path with no cyclists, we only met one other person in 2 hours.
On Wednesday 13th July, it was well worth the long drive to Mont St Michel, which is just across the border in Normandy's North coast. This is an amazing cathedral perched on top of a pyramidical rock at the end of a causeway out to sea, which can be flooded at high tides.
In France, quattorze Juillet is 14th July, now called Republic Day, formerly "Bastille Day". We went to the village of Guern searching for Breton dancers,  but this was a non-event. Then we went to Pontivy, which is an interesting town by river, with ancient streets and houses from 16th and 17th centuries. We took a tour guided by a pamphlet and numbrered plaquews on walls.  At 6pm we saw a procesion of dancers from 3 or 4 nations, including Bretons, along the streets, followed by a stage performance in a town square.
We  went to Lac de Guerlegan, saw the barrage, and villages near the lake.  In the evening we went to Mur de Bretagne and watched a performance of Breton dancing in costume, to the music of a bagpiper and a bordon?
Intermittent rain. We went to the villages of Hemonstoir and Rohan, then to Jossylin. castle and town.
Long trip (212 kms each way)  west to Finistere, Cozon Peninsula, Camaret-sur-Mer on the Atlantic coast..  Rained most of day. We got soaked to the skin twice in sudden storms whilst walking only short distances from the car.
Weather dry but cloudy. Local wander round villages near St Caradec.  St Thelo, Le Quillio, which form part of the "Chemin de lin" the linen route. In the 18th and 19th centuries, 35,000 people were employed in the textile trades in this region.  Many cloth merchants became rich and built impressive houses and funded extensive churches. We had a very nice 4 course traditional French "midi" lunch at St Gilles Vieux Marche.. We explred the village, then drove to a hill with a magnificent view over the Breton countryside.
We drove south-west to Hennebont, with an impressive city wall and gate house.

We then drove to Quiberon peninsula, and saw a busy French family seaside resort in full swing despite cool and windy weather. This peninsula is on the southern, warmer, side of Brittany, thought it still is the Atlantic ocean. The sea was 15 degrees, the air 17 at most. We enjoyed a nice 3 course lunch, with steak, at a restaurant with a full view of the main beach at Quiberon. 


En route back we stopped at St Anne-Auray, where there is an enormous abbey (19th century) and numerous shrines, amazing "Venice Rialto style" monuments, and huge pilgrim reception facilities. St Anne is the Virgin Mary's mother, born in Brittany, married for the second time in Palestine, and her daughter Mary born there by Anne's Palestinian husband. Her grandson, Jesus, visited his grandmother in Brittany.  So enormous numbers of pilgrims flood here to experience miracles facilitated by St Anne. 




We stayed in our gite all day Wednesday 20th July, reading books and internet articles, as we were very tired, and it was raining practically all day.
We stayed in the local St Caradec area on our last day at the cottage on Thursday 21st, then on Friday 22nd we drove to Paris. We used the autoroute, which was very fast and efficient, though rather expensive, until we encountered terrible traffic jams around Paris on the Boulevarde Peripherique, and en route to the airport.
We stayed at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport ready for our morning flight to KL on Saturday 23rd. After a day sojourn at a hotel inside KL airport,  we finally made it back home to Australia, arriving Monday 25th July.